Consider this...

"Fifty percent of people don't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent." - Gore Vidal

John has finally given in and accepted that “read” can be a noun and not just a verb. These are not necessarily all books published in 2009. In fact, maybe only one of them was. Reading for 2009 included lots of Richard Powers and books on neuroscience, but also a re-read of “Gravity’s Rainbow” and a wonderful Chinese book.



Richard Powers, “The echo makers”

John got into a Richard Powers mood after reading “The time of our singing” last year. The next one was “The echo makers”. The book has everything — poetry, science, natural beauty, a cause and suspense. The title refers to the cranes which flock every year over a part of Nebraska and the book really makes you feel like going to see the wonderfully described scene. The science — neurobiology — is a fairly hairy one, which sometimes makes for difficult going. It lit John’s interest in the subject, on which he read five books that year. One of them was…

Antonio Damasio, “Descartes’ error”

Damasio discusses the role of emotions in cognition. His writing is limpid and funny and he almost makes the subject easy. Almost… What he does make it is fascinating.

Oliver Sacks, “Musicophilia”

Another neurobiology book was Oliver Sacks’s “Musicophilia”. For music lovers and folks interested in science — and John thinks the latter, at least, should include everyone — this book is wonderful. Did you know for instance that perfect pitch is more frequent among children, who are also in the language learning stage, and that this occupies parts of the brain which in later life are given over to other tasks? Absolutely fascinating. And not at all difficult.

Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity’s rainbow”

This year John reread “Gravity’s rainbow”. This is quite simply one of the most wonderful books ever written, from every point of view. John — and others — compare it very favorably to Joyce’s “Ulysses”. What more can be said?

RIchard Powers, “The gold bug variations”

One more of the Richard Powers books John consumed that year was “The gold bug variations”. Based on Poe, Bach and evolutionary biology (the discovery of just how DNA does its job), it is another book for musicians and science lovers. The book is based on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”, by subject (the hero falls in love with Bach and with someone else during the course of the book), by analogy (with the genetic combination process) and by structure (the architecture of the book). A wonder.

William Dalrymple, “Nine lives, in search of the sacred in modern India”

John just happened to see William Dalrymple’s latest book for sale in the street in Mumbai and bought it and loved it. In nine chapters, Dalrymple interviews and tells the life stories of nine people in India. The stories run from that of a Jain saintess (well, she seemed like a saint to John) to a “daughter of Yellama” (a prostitute). There are also stories of a dancer, a singer, a sculptor and more. Fascinating and moving.

Gao Xingjian. “Soul mountain”

John started reading “Soul mountain” in English, but soon dropped it. The translation was _not_ good and the often-faulty grammar and confusing sentences interrupted the reading too much. He later read it in French as “La montagne de l’âme” and loved it. It is one of the most unusual books you might ever read, a mixture of folk tails, environmental experiences, interior reflection and much more. A beautiful book, to be savored and enjoyed — and re-read. You will not be worrying about how the story turns out because there is none. Or, rather, there are many. It is a wonderful read anyway. If you can read it in anything but English, do.

Don Delillo, “Underworld”

John read Don Delillo’s first book years ago and laughed all the way through it. He read another a few years later and yawned all the way through it. So he tried “Underworld” with some trepidation. Delillo is not Thomas Pynchon, regardless of what the back of the book says. But he has constructed a fascinating and suspenseful book based on possession of … a baseball. The opening baseball story is a knockout.It was a great book, but John could not help comparing it to Pynchon — which was good and bad. A recommended read.

Hanif Kureishi, “The Buddha of suburbia”

The funniest book John read this year was Hanif Kureishi’s “The Buddha of suburbia”, Kureishi’s barely disguised history of his own emigrant Pakistani family in mod London. It is hilarious and moving. But if you are put off by homosexuality and really scabrous sex, maybe you would be better off reading Jane Austen.

John Buchan, anything

John also read several books by John Buchan. Buchan is always good.